The first time Fernando Torres went to the Vicente Calderón to watch Atlético Madrid was just over 20 years ago, one cold day in January 1995. His grandfather Eulalio had already made an Atlético fan of him and that afternoon over lunch someone suggested heading to the match. Torres remembers Diego Simeone but otherwise his ‘debut’, a 1-1 draw with Compostela, was not particularly memorable and was far from glorious. Which was appropriate, somehow.Eighteen months later Atlético won the double but those were their only trophies in what would be an 18-year run. Eulalio had long filled Torres’s head with talk of suffering and sacrifice, about how being an Atlético meant “resisting Real Madrid”, and at school in Fuenlabrada he’d found out for himself. “When I was young almost everyone was a Real fan. I’d go in wearing my Atlético tracksuit just to wind them up, he later recalled. “But on the inside I was almost always pissed off because the team had lost that weekend.
Torres made his debut in the Second Division at 17, an idol for supporters who sang his name to the tune of Can’t Take My Eyes Off You – he was described by one columnist as “one part prodigy, one part folk hero, one part native son, one part messiah” – and he played for Atlético for seven years, helping them return to the First Division, but he did not win anything and was never close. He recently revealed that Atlético’s fans encouraged him to leave, for his own sake.Torres’s attitude was similar. In conversations with the club, Torres said he wanted them to buy a player, not an icon. Torres may be a star, his shirt outselling all others, but he came willingly to play a supporting role – Mandzukic is the lead No9 and has 12 league goals while Antoine Griezmann is the star of the forward line, on 18.